(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
MANILA, Philippines -- Two words came to mind after I watched "Prometheus," director Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi genre after 30 years. The first word was brilliant. The second one was failure.
First off, it’s difficult to watch this movie without sensing the baggage of expectations attached to it. Will "Prometheus" inject life into the "Alien" franchise after a raft of insipid sequels that watered down the thrills of the original? Will Scott deliver shocks in the same way that the alien chestburster so unexpectedly ripped into our collective nightmares 30 something years ago? Most importantly, do we even care what a Space Jockey is – that dead alien at the start of the first "Alien" movie?
Raising the bar of expectations for the movie was the marketing: there’s the pseudo TED talk by Peter Weyland in 2023, the David 8 ad for the Weyland android and numerous cast interviews plus an international poster that gave away a key scene in the movie.
It seemed at times that the marketing would give away too much of the movie before it would even be shown in theaters.
All these fears, however, were put aside after the movie finally hit local theaters: "Prometheus" is a magnificently realized visual marvel that keeps most of its visual thrills.
Just the first scene alone: with the humanoid Engineer disintegrating into a waterfall is enough to whet the appetite for Scott’s imagination.
Sadly, this is film that wastes a strong buildup with a ridiculously weak third act.
The plot itself is simple enough: a group of scientists travel to a distant moon whose location is shown in cave drawings and other artifacts of ancient cultures. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) believes the moon is where the "Engineers," or architects of human life, come from. To get there, the crew of the Prometheus must stay in stasis as the ship goes on its journey.
It is during the early part of this movie that Michael Fassbender’s character, the android David, truly shines. David the android does not need to sleep or eat but does so because it is in his programming. He longs to be human but can never be one: he mimics Peter O’Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia" but is reminded by his own creator that he does not have a soul. David is programmed to show emotion so why is everybody on the Prometheus treating him like a household appliance?
Other characters in the movie do not benefit from the buildup heaped on David. There’s Vickers (Charlize Theron), the no-nonsense representative of Weyland Corp that is funding the mission; Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) as Shaw’s love interest; Captain Janek (Idris Elba) who pilots the Prometheus. There are other characters in the story but are too paper-thin to merit any mention (except for one character who makes a surprise appearance in the final third).
All the good parts of this movie can be found in its first two acts. The arrival on the alien planet, the discovery of the pyramid structure hiding a giant humanoid head, the remnants of the so-called Engineers, the H.R. Giger murals and the steel canisters containing black goo – all of it scream of awe-inspiring spectacle.
An added plus are the alien designs, which show a touch of Lovecraft without completely ditching the influence of the xenomorph design.
And then there’s a harrowing scene with Shaw (Rapace) that has to be one of the most viscerally punishing, body horror scenes ever filmed.
Sadly, all the seeming goodwill built up in these early scenes disintegrates once they get to the final third of the movie. There are some last-minute reveals that border on the ridiculous, leaps of logic by a cast member that are unearned and cheap, and an ending that made me think of those old Westerns where the hero rides off into the sunset. Except this hero has a severed head for company.
So what’s the verdict for this? Enjoy "Prometheus" for its good parts, expect some bad turns at the end and maybe hold out hope for a better Director’s Cut DVD.
Fascinating and infuriating, "Prometheus" is a magnificent muckup of a film that will make you scream, not out of fright, but frustration for a movie that swings for greatness but doesn’t quite get there.